Category Archives: Sonoma

Reach For Beauty

Reach For Beauty

Micah 6:6-8 Matthew 5: 13a-16

Alan Claassen                 November 9, 2014

          I met Lily Yeh while I was a student at the University of Creation Spirituality, which was founded by Matthew Fox, author of many books including, Original Blessing.

          Matthew Fox was also famous for having a year of silence imposed upon him by the Catholic Church. I was fortunate to be at this first lecture when the year of silence was completed. His first words were, “As I was saying…”

          Lily Yeh was invited to teach at the University of Creation Spirituality because of her work combining art and social change.

          In 1986, Lily Yeh was asked by the dancer and educator Arthur Hall to create a park in an abandoned lot next to his building in North Philadelphia. With a small grant, a few shovels, and little else, Lily invited children and adults in this impoverished inner city neighborhood to join her in clearing the rubble-filled lot. They then transformed the lot into an art park with brilliant mosaics and sculpted trees, creating an oasis of safety and peace.

          Lily’s vision has rippled out far beyond North Philadelphia’s borders.

          She inspires and collaborates with prison inmates to create beauty and art, and does the same with thousands of adults and children who live in some of the world’s most broken communities.

          She has collaborated with residents of the Korogocho slum near Nairobi to transform a barren churchyard with murals and sculptures and traveled to Ghana, Ecuador, The Ivory Coast and the Republic of Georgia to work on similar projects. 

          A recent endeavor is the Rwanda Healing Project, in which she worked with hundreds of children and families to transform their bleak village into a place of beauty and joy. The work is based in a village of survivors of the horrendous Rwandan genocide of 1994.

          Born in China, Lily immigrated to the United States in the early 1960s to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts. A successful painter and professor at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, Lily traveled to Beijing in 1989 to show her work at the Central Institute of Fine Art. While there, she witnessed the tragic events of Tiananmen Square.

          Through the 1980s, Lily gradually realized that being an artist “is not just about making art, t is about delivering the vision one is given and about doing the right thing without sparing oneself.”

          She continues pursuing her vision through her new organization, Barefoot Artists, Inc., which teaches residents and artists how to replicate the Village model in devastated communities around the world.

          In an issue of Yes! magazine, where she is one of 15 persons honored by that magazine for their transformative work, Lily says, “I have found that the broken spaces are my living canvas. In our brokenness, our hearts reach for beauty.” She sees her work as “igniting the light of creativity that rests in all people.” She says, “My message is that your light is as bright as mine. It’s sunlight. There’s no difference. You just need to have it lit.”

          Here is my story of how Lily Yeh lit this little light of mine.

          I found three themes in the tools that Lily gave me for the journey of walking on the path; self-care, beauty, and good will.


          I want to share one time in class in which she exemplified self-care in her actions.

One day she came into class late and flustered. She had been dealing with traffic problems.

Before she began the formal part of the class she asked us to help get her focused and present. She asked us to form a circle around her and sing a note.

          After we had done this for a few moments she then thanked us. So we were then invested in her health and well-being. She brought her vulnerability and willingness-to-be amazed to class and we were, in effect, responsible for our own well being because we had helped put our teacher back together again. Since we had brought her to health we were naturally invested in her success that day as a teacher and our success as teachers.

          Thisstory exemplified for me how Lily comes into a community with self-care,

expressed in her relationships with others. Caring for one’s self includes the humility that asks others for help.

          In the act of self-care that names ones limits and needs, a community is formed.

          Lily shared with us that in the early years of her work in Philadelphia she was ready to back out but a small voice said, “that if you back away from this you will never amount to anything.” Courage is required in completing this work.

          To help one deal with the difficulties is also important to protect oneself. Lily shared that she was protected both by angels and by people. One of the first art projects on the abandoned, inner city, Philadelphia block was the  “Wall of Angels,” that was there to protect the children.

          Lily took hundreds of pieces of broken glass and the people of the neighborhood made a mural with three angels that hovered over and protected that city block.

          Lily’s first tool was self-care.

Beauty is her second tool.

          One would expect an artist to talk about beauty.

           “You must clean the park to play in the park.” The question is how can we make this park, body, church, school, world beautiful.

          First we clean out that which is ugly that we can remove. Then the park, or city-block, needs a center and a boundary. After cleaning the park of debris Lily brought color to the center. That color might be as simple as large circles of red and blue on concrete. Color brings energy. Color instantly transforms even the most mundane of things.

          After color the place needs dirt, then water. It is almost as if the creative process is an re-enactment of the first creative project, Creation itself. First the vision, then order from chaos, then light, then dirt. What comes next? The things that are attracted to form, color, dirt, butterflies and children.

          And it is good.

          As Lily involves people in the vision she engages them in their stories, which means engaging them in their darkness as well as in their dreams. All the while she holds onto her vision and her high sense of quality. This is a place where Lily’s deep gladness meets the deep hunger of the inner city of Philadelphia.

          Besides for the self-protection and beauty, Lily Yeh also gives the tool of a good will.

          To go into a community with good will means many things.

          It means to enter with an open mind, curious, turning to wonder not judgment.

Gentleness, beauty and kindness are other elements of good will. Impatience and manipulation come from a bad will.

          Good will is to come into a community without an attitude of problem solving, but instead to look for ways for the community’s dream to be awakened,  beauty to be uncovered, pain to be expressed and healed.

          Lily saw that her task was to cultivate and inspire people with the “magnificent and magnetic principles.” Lily directs people’s energies towards a common goal. She enters a community and asks for their dreams. Then she sets up a project based upon achievable dreams.      

          Following this process of creative good will increases the chances that the dream will be maintained once it is completed. Without ownership by the community that is a result of good will, the dream is not likely to be maintained.

          The tools that Lily Yeh gave to me on my Vision Quest are self-protection, beauty, and good will.  If I have this three qualities I will not be afraid to go walk the path I am meant to walk. If you have these qualities you need not be afraid to pursue the dreams you have within you as a congregation.

          Lily Yeh, reaching for beauty, provides us with a practice to follow, like the method a potter might use to transform clay into a pot, or the Holy Spirit might use to form a community.

          Each of has been given a gift that brings us joy and serves the community at the same time. This is our authentic self. This is the way of service. This is walking on the path God wants us walk on.

          In this season of thankful hearts and shared gifts you are given an opportunity to gather around this congregation with your pledges of time, talent, and treasure just as Lily Yeh asked her students to gather around her.

          May you reach for kindness, justice, humility. May you reach for beauty.

          May you be a light on Cornwall Avenue in the heart of Bellingham.


The Pond We Live In

The Pond We Live In

Acts 4: 32-35  Romans 8:18-25

Alan Claassen & E. G.

November 22, 2015

Introduction: Alan

            In last week’s sermon entitled, “Thank God for Evolution” I said that

in light of the crisis of global warming, and increasing violence in the world, we need to understand the great insights of love and justice that are in science and the Bible in order to shape our current view of theology and cosmology. We need to understand who we are and what our purpose is in the evolution of life in this most amazing universe.

            I also said that E.G. and I will share more about the ethical implications of this awareness of the Universe story, where each creature is endowed with significance and worthy of respect, with selected readings from the Bible, the Pope’s Encyclical, the poetry of Mary Oliver, and the Earth Care Covenant of this congregation.

         Well here we are.

Opening: E.G.    Our congregation has been thinking and talking for some months about Pope Francis’ encyclical, ”Laudato Si (Praise be to you):  In care for Our Common Home.” The Earth Care Committee earlier sponsored an open viewing of the Pope’s speech to Congress in which he reviewed the themes in his encyclical. And a group of 16 of us are now reading and discussing the chapters in the encyclical on Tuesday afternoons.

         In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis reminds us that Saint Francis called all creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’ Pope Francis writes that this conviction

         “cannot be written off as naïve romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behavior. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.

         By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object to be used and controlled.” (Laudato Si, Introduction, 11)

         This intimate relationship with nature is beautifully expressed in Mary Oliver’s poem, Starfish.

In the sea rocks,

in the stone pockets

under the tide’s lip,

in water dense as blindness

they slid

like sponges,

like too many thumbs.

I knew this, and what I wanted

was to draw my hands back

from the water – what I wanted

was to be willing

to be afraid.

But I stayed there,

I crouched on the stone wall

while the sea poured its harsh song

through the sluices,

while I waited for the gritty lightning

of their touch, while I stared

down through the tide’s leaving

where sometimes I could see them –

their stubborn flesh

lounging on my knuckles.

What good does it do

to lie all day in the sun

loving what is easy?

It never grew easy,

but at last I grew peaceful:

all summer

my fear diminished

as they bloomed through the water

like flowers, like flecks

of an uncertain dream,

while I lay on the rocks, reaching

into the darkness, learning

little by little to love

our only world.


Alan Claassen

my fear diminished as they bloomed through the water

like flowers, like flecks of an uncertain dream,

while I lay on the rocks, reaching

into the darkness, learning

little by little to love

our only world.

We hear this expressed in the Bible Psalm 150:6

     “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” sings the Psalmist (Psalm 150:6). 

            From the music of the planets spinning deep in space, to the silent beauty of the starfish in the tide pools, to the trills of the thrushes deep in the forests, all creation praises the maker. We care for fellow creatures so that they, with us, can continue to sing God’s praises.

            The Creator/Creating has given human beings a special responsibility to care for creation. We are to nurture, sustain, and care for creation the way God nurtures, sustains, and cares for us.

            As it says in Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God took the humankind in the garden to till it and to keep it”

            And in Psalm 24:1The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof!”

The earth is not ours; it belongs to God.  And we share it, not just with other human beings, but with all of God’s creation, the sea stars in the tide pools, the refugees from Syria, those who suffer in poverty and those who bear the the responsibility of wealth, and the children of our children’s children.


         The Pope means Laudato Si to be a forthright and honest ongoing dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. His goal is to include everyone in consideration and conversation, since the environmental changes affect us all, and the poor in particular.  This may be the center of Pope Francis’s message in Laudato Si,

         “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? This question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal. When we ask ourselves what kind of world we want to leave behind, we think in the first place of its general direction, its meaning and its values. Unless we struggle with these deeper issues, I do not believe that our concern for ecology will produce significant results.

         But if these issues are courageously faced, we are led inexorably to ask other pointed questions: What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us? It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity…” (Chapter 4,160)


            What is the purpose of our life? What is our role in creation? What is our source of dignity? Perhaps we can learn something about that from a turtle such as the one that Mary Oliver writes about in her poem,

The Turtle

by Mary Oliver

breaks from the blue-black

skin of the water…

to dig with her ungainly feet

a nest…

and you think

of her patience, her fortitude,

her determination to complete

what she was born to do-

and then you realize a greater thing-

she doesn’t consider

what she was born to do.

She’s only filled

with an old blind wish.

It isn’t even hers but came to her

in the rain or the soft wind,

which is a gate through which her life keeps walking.

she can’t see

herself apart from the rest of the world

or the world from what she must do

every spring.

Crawling up the high hill,

luminous under the sand that has packed against her skin.

she doesn’t dream

she knows

she is a part of the pond she lives in,

the tall trees are her children,

the birds that swim above her

are tied to her by an unbreakable string.


“she can’t see herself apart from the rest of the world…she knows she is a part of the pond she lives in…”

            In this morning’s scripture reading from the Book of Acts, which takes place right after Peter’s Pentecost sermon where thousands listened to him and joined this new movement. These new disciples devoted themselves to the teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

            And what was the result of this study, this fellowship, this breaking of the bread and prayers?

            Great grace, awe, came upon everyone.

            All who believed were together and had all things in common;

            they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all as they had need.

            Mary Oliver’s poem, entitled Goldenrod, is a celebration of the grace that abounds in creation and that delights in giving itself away. I would like to read the closing section of this poem

For myself,

  I was just passing by, when the wind flared

      and the blossoms rustled,

          and the glittering pandemonium leaned on me.

  I was just minding my own business

      when I found myself on their straw hillsides,

          citron and butter-colored, and was happy, and why not?

  Are not the difficult labors of our lives full of dark hours?

          And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?

  All day

       on their airy backbones

           they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,

  they rise in a stiff sweetness,

      in the pure peace of giving one’s gold away.


they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,

  they rise in a stiff sweetness,

      in the pure peace of giving one’s gold away.

            This moment, when the earth’s health is in danger and our economic structures are collapsing may be a Good Friday moment for us a civilization. We may be able to see what we have done wrong as human beings exploiting the planet and take an evolutionary step out of the tomb and forward into a consciousness that deeply understands what it means to share all things in common.

            As the turtle knows, we need to know the part of the pond that we live in.

            As the Goldenrod knows, we need to know, how to give our treasures away,

            As the starfish knows, we need to know, how to love our only world.

            And as the early church knew, that the earth is the Lord’s,

            and that great grace leads us to our spiritual nature,

                        where all things are shared in common.

We who believe this are called now at this time, as never before, to rise to the occasion and act with compassion and imagination, so that we may be agents of healing and justice and peace in our common home.


We would like to close this sermon with an invitation to read together our Earth Care Covenant. We invite you stand as your able.

FCC Sonoma Earth Care Covenant

We, the First Congregational Church of Sonoma, United Church of Christ,

            proclaim our love for God’s Creation

            and profess our belief that the Earth and all its life forms

            are an interconnected part of the sacred Web of Life.

We therefore covenant together to join in the great work

            of healing, preservation and justice

            as we strive to reduce

            our individual and collective adverse impact on the environment

            and to repair the damage that has been done to God’s Earth.

In worship and church life

            we will express our appreciation

            and give praise for the Earth and all its forms of life.

We make this covenant in the hope and faith

            that through our work we will be able to

            help improve and sustain the health

            of the land, air and water

            for the benefit of all current and future

            inhabitants of this Planet.

Thank God for Evolution

Thank God for Evolution

Rev. Alan Claassen          November 15, 2015

          Where to begin?

          Where to begin if you are God and you have a universe to create.

          Where to begin if you are God and you want to create a universe that will include among its elemental forces freedom and love?

          Where to begin if you are God and want to create a universe that is capable of creating itself?

          Where to begin if you the human first gifted with consciousness and you want to describe God, the world, and your place in it?

          Where to begin a sermon that wants to deal with such questions as these?

          I can remember when I was in grade school; I used to like to think about the end or edge of the universe. I would imagine traveling out further and further in space and then coming to the wall at the edge of the universe. But then I would always have ask myself, “What’s on the other side of that wall?”

          My childhood dilemma apparently is an ancient one. There is an old story about a western traveler encountering an Asian philosopher and asks him to describe the nature of the world.

          The great philosopher says, “The world is a ball resting on the flat back of a huge turtle.”

          “Ah yes,” replied the westerner, “But what does the turtle stand on?”

          “On the back of an even larger turtle.”

          “Yes, but what does that turtle stand on?”

          “A very perceptive question, but it’s no use, mister, it’s turtles all the way down.

          My future must have begun with that frustration of not knowing how to describe the beginnings or endings of the universe because later in life I chose to go into the humanities where poetic answers to such questions are allowed.

          In fact, I became stubbornly anti-science in high school and college. And so in my last year of college, when it was time to assess what general education classes I still needed to graduate I discovered that I needed to take two science classes and one math class.

          No more term papers, no more waxing eloquently, these were teachers that wanted real facts, no subjectivity, or so I thought.

          My fears were somewhat calmed on my first day in astronomy class. After a perfectly interesting lecture the teacher gave the assignment for that evening. He said, “Go out and look at the stars tonight and wonder.”

          Well I could that.

          But then he added this amazing fact.

          The ancient Greeks were such fine observers of the stars that they noticed that some stars moved, very slowly month-by-month. These stars seemed to wander on a course across the night sky.

          The Greek word for wander? Planet.

          These friends of Socrates paid such close attention to the night sky that they could see one light change place among millions of lights.

          I was impressed.

          Years passed and then the curiosity about Science and Religion got a hold of me again. I found a book by John Polkinghorne, a Cambridge Professor of Mathematical Physics, who became an Anglican Priest and President of Queen’s College, Cambridge.

          The book that I chose to read, is entitled  Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity.

          He begins the book by saying that science is not like some sort of cosmic Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Instead it is experiment and theory, fact and interpretation, always mixed up with each other. Now to a humanities person such as myself, this is comforting, it almost sounds like scientists are actually very creative people.

          Polkinghorne believes that both science and religion seek knowledge. Science works by testing, religion works by trusting. Science asks How? Religion asks Why? And what science today is able to tell us about creation far surpasses what Greeks accomplished by seeing moving stars. 

          Polkinghorne describes the time it takes for the basic components of the atom to develop into helium, hydrogen. Millions of years just for this to take place.

          The right degree of expansion after the Great Flaring Forth at the beginning of time,

          just the right amount of smoothness in space/time for it appears to be ripples in the universe that give us galaxies.

          Just the right amount of chance and necessity so that we don’t have a completely random world that makes no sense,

          nor do we have a boring world that sparks no delight.

          Albert Einstein said that one of the miracles of the universe is that we can understand it at all.

          I really can’t begin to describe all of the things he says in the book, mainly because I don’t understand them.

I am a recovering humanities major. These things take time.

          He did have one passage I found interesting and I think I understood it. He is talking about water.

          “A few H20 molecules by themselves are not wet, but if you have a collection of billions of these molecules, they interact with each other in such a way as to produce an energy at the surface of that the collection that physicists call “surface tension” and we experience as wetness.

          Wetness is the collective effect of the H20 molecules together. Wetness is an energetic property of relationships.

          The significance of this statement about water is that is indicative of the dramatic shift that took place in physics in the 1920s, namely the shift from the view that the world is a collection of separate entities to the view that they physical world is a network of relationships.

          This is the most exciting aspect of these sub-atomic discoveries.

Energy-relationship is the basis of creation. Not matter. Not things.

          But energy. Energy like light, and heat, and gravity,

                   like attraction, like spirit, like love.

          “When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep;

          and the wind of God was moving over the face of the waters and God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

          And God said, “I feel good. So good. I’ve got light.”

          This leads a man of science and religion like Polkinghorne to say that God is a part of every moment of creation, not just the first one. The difference might be put into words by saying, “the Creator Creating.”

          In the 13th century there was a philosopher named Baruch Spinoza who wrote at a time when science and religion were not estranged from one another.

          He had a definition for God that I have always liked and coincides nicely with this idea of Polkinghorne’s as the Creator Creating.

          Spinoza defined God as “Nature naturing.”

          God cannot be separated out from the universe, just as consciousness cannot be separated out from our brains and body.

          Spirit/energy/matter are interrelated. God is not one thing among all of the other things of the universe.

          God is not directing the universe like a puppeteer directs the puppet, and yet the universe is not free to go wherever it wills.

          There are natural laws and there is natural freedom. God is the form that was there before it all began and the idea that pulls it all forward.

          The great novelist Alice Walker describes this interconnection between energy and matter this way. “What I have noticed in my small world is that if I praise the wild flowers growing on the hill in front of my house, the following year they double in profusion and brilliance.

          The universe responds. What you ask of it, it gives.

          I remember I used to dismiss the bumper sticker, “Pray for Peace.” I realize now that I did not understand it,

          since I did not understand prayer; which I know now to be

          the active affirmation of our inseparableness from the divine.”

          Prayer is a force of energy just as real as gravity, light, or the breath of God hovering over the waters at the beginning of creation.

          Prayer is the active affirmation of our inseparableness from the divine,

          and one another.

          The poet, Emily Dickinson said, that the only commandment of Jesus that she obeyed was, “Consider the lilies.”

          What would happen if we did just what Jesus asked his disciples to do and considered the lilies. Truly considered the lilies. Go out tonight and look at the stars and wonder.

          These thoughts about sub-atomic particles, the scientific theories about the beginnings of the universe, energy/relationships as the basis of life,

          all of these thoughts are new for me and I wish I could share some of delight in them with you.

          Part of my excitement comes from my belief that we need a new way to talk about God. The Bible is a great storehouse of stories of the interaction between God and humanity. But it is a story cast in an understanding of the world that is 2,000-6,000 years old.

          Much of it does not square with our understanding of the universe. How can we retain the great insights of love and justice that are in the Bible and join them with our current view of the world?

          And, in light of the crisis of global warming, and increasing violence in the world, we also need to understand the great insights of love and justice that are in science and in order to shape our current view of theology and morality.

          We need a new creation story where science and religion, cosmology and theology, are dancing together.

          Let me close with a reading from a scientist who has taken a new position at the Vatican, namely, Pope Francis, who says, in his latest encyclical,

          God has written a precious book, “whose letters are the multitude of created things present in the universe”.[54]  

          [IN other words, nature is a scripture.]

          The Canadian bishops rightly pointed out that no creature is excluded from this manifestation of God: “From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine”.[55]

          The bishops of Japan, for their part, made a thought-provoking observation: “To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope”.[56] 

          Next Sunday, E.G. and I will share more about the moral implications of this awareness of the Universe story with selected readings from the Pope’s Encyclical, the poetry of Mary Oliver, and the Earth Care Covenant of this congregation.

          For now, I just want to affirm that as a progressive Christians we affirm the wisdom of science, evolution, and the Creator’s care for all creation.

          And let us realize how we can be praying for peace simply by considering a lily, as an active affirmation of our inseparableness from the divine.

Take Heart Bart

Take Heart Bart

John Philip Newell                 Mark 10:46-52

Alan Claassen             October 25, 2015

FCC Sonoma                           Stewardship Sunday

          Blind Beggar Bartimaeus is one of my favorite Gospel stories.

          First of all, it has a cool camp song that goes along with it. Sing along

Blind man stood by the way and cried,  (3 times)

Oh, oh oh, Show me the way, (3 times)

The way to go ho-o-me

The way to go home. Show me the way to go home.

          The eternal yearning of the human heart.

                   Show me the way to go home.

                             Show me a place where I belong

Blind Beggar Bartimaeus believes that mercy is passing by and calls out.

The crowd says, be quiet.

“They have told you to be quiet

since your crib,

when your needs, your cry for the divine

disturbed them.

You too have learned the command,

to silence your soul, to silence others.

Stand still and listen:

what is the voice within, crying out, silenced?

Rise; take heart.

The Beloved is calling you,

wants to hear your plea,

to honor your word,

to hear what has not been spoken,

wants you to come,

to ask for what must be asked for

and must be given.

Now, you have been called

and you have been heard.

Whom have we silenced?

Whom are you called to call

to reveal

the miracle of God?

Rise, take heart.

The Beloved is calling you.”

                           Stephen Garnaas-Holmes

The blind beggar calls out from the crowd, “Son of David have mercy on me.”

The crowd says be quiet.

Bart cries out even louder. “Jesus send your mercy my way.”

Jesus hears Bartimaeus and stops.

Jesus stops along the way

“How often he stops.

Stands still.

Waits. Listens. Does nothing.

Gives time

in the tumult of our thought and fear,

the racket of our obligations’ traffic,

to let a small, clear space expand,

a depth open like a well in the noise,

a listening reach like roots through earth,

a stillness rise and stand against our haste.

He lets them pass,

the anxious wind and waves,

Jesus sees, he hears

the voice drowned out

yet never drowned.

Among beggars’ voices

beneath the roar of frightened crowds,

Jesus hears a cry

and then become the voice of mercy,

the still, small silence

of loving-kindness,

as vast as the air.”

                   Stephen Garnaas-Holmes and Alan Claassen

Bart cries out even louder. “Jesus send your mercy my way.”

The blind beggar calls out from the crowd, “Son of David have mercy on me.”

Jesus calls Bartimaeus.

The crowd around Bartimaeus says, “Take heart, he is calling you.”

“Take heart, he is calling you.”

God did not cause Bartimaeus’ blindness, any more that God caused the Loma Prieta earthquake. But in the way the earth is made, earthquakes happen.

Blindness happens.

And mercy happens. Loving kindness happens

“Jesus is “another wave of mercy,

the kind of mercy that God has been doing all through the Hebrew Bible….

waves and waves of loving kindness,

because God’s mercy is given continually in the world and has made all things new.”

The crowd says, “Take heart, Bart; he is calling you. Mercy is calling you.”

Bartimaeus is brought before Jesus who asks,

“What do you want me to do for you?”

Jesus asks?

Why does Jesus ask?

Because Jesus doesn’t see a blind man, he sees a man with soul and dignity.

He sees a man who needs to say for himself what he needs,

because that is the first step to honoring and to healing.

Bartimaeus is responsible for asking for what he needs.

Jesus does not presume to know.

Jesus does not fix what he believes needs fixing, Jesus asks Bartimaeus to name it.

Sometimes what others think we need, is not what we actually need.

Jesus teaches us to ask.

Bartimaeus replies to Jesus, “Teacher, let me see again.”

And his sight is restored.

God, let me see again.

Lord, have mercy on me.

Bartimaeus was surrounded by friends who told him to be quiet.

But Bartimaeus knew his need, and he trusted that mercy was walking by him in the form of Jesus,

Bart called out, and received mercy.

The crowd says, “Take heart, Bart; he is calling you. Mercy is calling you.”

Bartimaeus got Jesus to stop.

And Jesus got Bartimaeus

to trust that his giving into Jesus would enable him to see the road that leads to healing.

Blind man no longer sitting by the side.

Eyes opened man is now on the road, following the way of loving-kindess, mercy,

that knows when to stop, when to move, when to cry out, when to listen, how to honor the human dignity of every human being.

Let me ask you all something.

Have you been in a place like Bartimaeus?

Something that made you lose sight.

Something that made you lose sight of the way

Something that made you cry out, or whimper under breath,

O God, I could use a little mercy now.

And then, has someone, or some place, or a song, or an animal

given you a moment of eye to eye, heart to heart, soul to soul mercy?

And then in that moment of receiving loving-kindness, have you caught a glimpse,  brought you up to your own life

restored your sight, your connection with others.

Have you been moved by loving-kindness to become loving-kindess?

Because I think that is what this means to be a community a faith, a church.

“Those who received mercy are formed into a new community.  That would be us, in the church, a community of people who have received mercy and now have the opportunity, the possibility, the call, to extend mercy to all of God’s creation in need.”                                                                      (Walter Breuggemann)

On this day we are given a moment to say yes,

we have received mercy and loving-kindness from this congregation.

Yes, it has also been a pain in-the-but sometimes,

infuriating, frustrating, clumsy, broken, in a word,….human.

And in spite of and because of that very clumsiness,

we have stumbled, by the grace of God, fallen forward,

into moments where someone has lifted our hearts,

our bodies, our hopes, our call to peacemakers, earth-keepers, caring friends.

On this day we are given a moment to say yes to all that ways

in which we follow Jesus through caring for this sanctuary and grounds,

caring for our friends within this church

and neighbors in our local and global community, and the earth itself.

This church a hybrid vehicle, it runs on love and forgiveness.

It runs on nickels, dimes and dollars and home-baked cookies, and a shovel in hand.

It runs on faith and prayer.

We make the path by walking my friends, walking the path that leads us to a place where we belong.

Bart got Jesus to stop, Jesus go Bart to move again.

Let’s be a church on the move, up and down the mountain, like the angels in Jacob’s dream.

Let the people say,


It Does Move

It Does Move

Alan Claassen

May 21, 2017

Psychotherapist, Piero Ferruci, from Italy, has written a book called, Survival of the Kindest.

In his book, Ferrucci discusses the precious gift of connection, giving one’s attention to another human being. He writes, “People who are suffering don’t need advice, diagnoses, interpretations and interventions. They need sincere and complete empathy—attention.”

Once they have the feeling that another person is putting themselves in their shoes, they are better able to let go of their suffering and head down the path of healing.

“When someone opens themselves up to you and puts their trust in you, it is the greatest gift of all. Just think about it: which relationships in your life have enriched you the most and why? These are nearly always relationships in which people gave you their trust, whereby you had the feeling that the other person trusted you. Putting your trust in someone is precious. It is the gift we should be the most grateful for.”

Now, here’s a story from Piero Ferruci’s book, Survival of the Kindest.

It takes place on Boston Common, the oldest park in the United States, and the beginning of the Freedom Trail. The characters in this story are two men with little in common. One a well-heeled, high-powered attorney, the other a street-schooled, often ignored homeless person.

Rob slept on a sidewalk. Peter had a swank condo in the Back Bay. But every morning they would cross paths here on Boston Common and over the course of several months, actually became good friends.

How did that happen? Such contrasting men, living such different lives. You’d think after the weather and box scores they’d run out of things to talk about. And indeed, they did run out.

So Peter the high-powered attorney gave Robert, the street-powered homeless person, a copy of a favorite book of his called ‘Water for Elephants.’

Robert read the book. And discussing the book became their way of connecting, and a friendship was born.

“Then one day Peter asked Robert what he had done with the book. Robert replied, “I gave it to a fella over there. I knew he liked read” So it occurred to Peter and Robert that there was an interest out there on the Boston Common that could draw people together”

“You’d be surprised by how many people actually read,” Robert said.

Peter and Robert started the Homeless Book Club. They meet every Tuesday in a church conference room. Peter buys the books. In the beginning he offered to bring in lunch too, but the members said “no thanks.” They wanted this to be about more than just another free lunch.

“For me it’s a place to go and escape,” said Donald, a member.

“And to question things,” said Louise, another member.

“Yeah, I feel more sophisticated,” said Jamie, a member, laughing.

Unlike the others, Jamie, who lives in a rooming house, says he never used to be a reader. His addictions were the priority.

“I picked up the first book and started reading it and I couldn’t put it down,” Jamie said. Now Jamie is addicted to literature. “If I keep reading, and keeping my mind occupied, I’m less likely to hurt myself in life,” Jamie said.

Testimonials like that are now inspiring other people in other cities, even other countries, to start putting together their own homeless book clubs.

And as for the homeless man who started it all – Robert – turns out, the only reason he couldn’t get subsidized housing was because he had an unresolved moving violation on his record. Fortunately, he knew a good lawyer. Peter was able to clear up that traffic ticket, which is why tonight Rob is no longer on the streets. He’s housed and working as a church custodian.”

A connection. A paying attention to another human being and a giving soul to soul. A Thankful Heart and a Shared Gift.

(Source: A Story about connection A Tale With a Storybook Ending By Steve Hartman CBS News. Found on

I received a book, from my father.

          It is a book entitled the The Future of Humanity and it is written Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit Priest and a paleontologist.

          He is considered by many to be the grandfather of what is now called evolutionary Christianity.

          I opened the book to the first chapter, skipped over the quote written in Italian, since I don’t read Italian, and read these words.

          “The conflict dates from the day when one man, flying in the face of appearance, perceived that the forces of nature are no more unalterably fixed in their orbits than the stars themselves,

          but that their serene arrangement around us depicts the flow of a tremendous tide—the day on which a first voice rang out, crying to humankind, peacefully slumbering on the raft of Earth, “We are moving! We are going forward…”

          I loved the quote and so became curious as to what conflict Teilhard de Chardin was referring to, so I looked back the quote that I had skipped earlier.

          E pur si muove

          Not only did I not know how to pronounce it, I didn’t know what it meant so I googled the phrase and found that it means, “We are moving.”

          I also learned who is famous for saying that phrase, the man was who, “flying in the face of appearance, perceived that the forces of nature” were not fixed but were flowing.

          As the story goes, mumbling these words quietly to himself, Galileo left the session of the Inquisition that had found him guilty after a trial for “grave suspicion of heresy”.

          The “heresy” was in connection with his publication of a book, “Dialogue on the Tides” in which his belief in the Copernican notion of a Sun centered universe had sort of “slipped in”.

          In Italy in 1633, suggesting that the earth, that rock solid center of God’s universe actually moved around another body, the Sun, was not the wisest thing to do. In fact that idea could get you killed… or worse.

          Galileo got off easy since he was sentenced to life in prison, which, lucky for him, became permanent house arrest instead.

          In addition he was commanded to never mention the idea again, his book was burned and the sentence against him was to be read publicly in every university.

          But Galileo knew what he saw.

          “And yet it does move”.

          And yet, “we are moving.”

First Congregational Church in Sonoma

          You are moving! Together is the challenge.

And it is scary.

You have to let go of some precious things, but not everything

You have precious things to offer also, your love for one another.

What moves you?

Feel the earth move under your feet and the sky come tumbling down.

And when the Spirit says move, you gotta move!